This article explores the establishment of the Great King Temple (金龍四大王廟) in Anhui Province as a means of preventing flood disasters. The temple was first established in commercial towns (市鎭) in major river basins or in the polder (圩田) areas on both sides of the Yangtze River. The Great King was worshiped among residents along the Yangtze River, the Huaihe River, and the canal, all of which are geomorphic features of Anhui Province, where frequent flooding occurs in shallow water systems that threatens the safety of passengers using these waterways as well as freight traffic. Such flooding not only damages people and property but also damages and changes the riverbeds themselves, which is a natural process. Inhabitants of the main water system worshiped the Great King as a spirit of protection of life and property during frequent floods.
Originally a god of the Yellow River, the Great King was awarded a seal by the state, resulting in the recognition of the Great King as a god of water transportation. Rooted in Anhui Province, where the characteristics of both the earlier and later versions of the god overlapped, the Great King was primarily worshiped by itinerant traders and local officials and gentry. The adoption of Great King worship among merchants facilitated his characteristics as a water and business god (行業神).
Religious rites of the Great King related to spring and autumn were adopted by the state, which accepted and propagated the religion, resulting in such worship taking root in the private sector in relation to waterway security and flood safety. Most Great King Temples were built in rural towns (鄕鎭), where merchants, gentry, and villagers all participated, making it possible to estimate the degree of acceptance and expectations of this civilian faith among followers. In particular, the process of spreading the religion to the Anhui Province, although limited to certain regions, was facilitated by itinerant traders (客商), who helped establish worship of the Great King nationwide.
In Anhui Province, 58 temples were established in 30 subprefectures and districts after the Shunzhi (順治) periods. The Temple of Digangzhen (荻港鎭) in Fanchang (繁昌) County and in the Wuwei (無爲) subprefecture were not built by local people but by Huizhou (徽州) and Zhejiang (浙江) merchants, respectively. Both of these areas were commercial cities relying on water transportation, and there was a psychological expectation to secure a safe distribution channel for visitors. Although it cannot be confirmed due to the lack of concrete data, it seems that worship of the Great King as a god of water transportation and maritime business was a function of guild halls in the Wuhe (五河) District. In the Quanjiao (全椒) District in the Chuzhou (滁州) subprefecture, the Great King was introduced by foreigners; the area originally was a reception site for the temple of Angong (晏公廟), indicating not only the frequent passage of merchants and ships but also the significance of the area for transportation of national taxes.
In the fourteenth year of the Kangxi (康熙) emperor, the Temple of Great King was built under the leadership of the district magistrate. Later, boatmen (船戶) re-established worship in the seventh year of the Dongzhi (同治) emperor. Although the benefits expected from worship of the Great King differed, a common benefit was stability. As the religion of the Great King spread throughout the main transportation route of Anhui Province, his identify as a guardian of water transportation become more prominent than his identity as a river god (河神).
Frequent natural disasters also affect the form of civilian religion. There are various types of civilian temples in Anhui province, such as the Yuwang Temple (禹王廟), the Sea King Temple (龍王廟), the Liumengjiangjun Temple (劉猛將軍廟), and the Angong Temple (晏公廟). Most of these temples were established earlier time than the Temple of the Great King. In the case of the Wuhe (五河) District and the Sizhou (泗州) subprefecture, the Huaihe (淮河), Kuai (澮河), Tonghe (潼河), and Chunghe (漴河) rivers converge; thus, the temple in Wuhe District was built at a Fishmonger’s hall (魚商會館), which later functioned as a guild hall and temple. The Great King as a guardian of water transportation and business directly influenced reestablishment of his temple under the leadership of DubanWuheYanli (督辦五河鹽釐) XuLongA (許隆阿) in the fifteenth year of the Guangxu Emperor (光緖), which included the breaking of an embankment (河決) of the Zengzhou (鄭州) in Henan Province (河南省), during the thirteenth year of the Guangxi emperor. After this reestablishment, the function of the guild hall included use as a temple, Fishmonger hall (魚商會館), and salt merchant hall (鹽商會館). Salt merchants participated in the reestablishment process because of concern about reduced salt production due to flooding.
Thus, the religion of the Great king was superimposed on prior worship of water protection gods, gods of business, and gods of rivers and water. In the Taihe Districe (太和縣) in the Yingzhou subprefecture (潁州府), Jing District (涇縣) in the Ningguo subprefecture (寧國府), Wuyuan District (婺源縣) in the Huizhou subprefecture (徽州府), Fengtai District (鳳臺縣) in the Fengyang subprefecture(鳳陽府), and the polder (圩田) areas of the Yangtze River, flooding was a common concern that supported worship of the Great King, who was believed to provide protection from flood damage.